Official says pipeline firm violated state guidelines for reporting Santa Barbara spill

The Texas owner of the crude oil pipeline that ruptured along the Santa Barbara County coast last month did not meet state guidelines for reporting an oil spill, a top state official said at an oversight hearing Friday. 

The joint hearing of two legislative committees focused on the response to the May 19 spill and the initial hours after the pipe owned by Plains All American Pipeline burst. Lawmakers also wanted to know why the company was unaware of corrosion in its pipeline. 

Plains employees did not report the spill to state officials until 2:54 p.m. on May 19, about an hour and a half after company officials said they confirmed a Plains pipeline was responsible for spilling thousands of gallons of oil along the coast. 

Mark S. Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said the company failed to meet the state deadline to report such a spill within 30 minutes.  

"They did not meet that criteria," he said. 

Ghilarducci said he did not know what penalties Plains would face as a result of the missed deadline. 

State Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris' office is still conducting criminal and civil investigations into the spill, a spokeswoman said Friday.  

According to documents released this week, Plains employees in Bakersfield who were responsible for alerting federal regulators to the spill were unable to contact employees on the ground near the ruptured pipeline.

In a letter to lawmakers, the company said workers in the field were "busy dealing with the immediate demands and distractions."

At the hearing Friday, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) also criticized Patrick Hodgins, director of safety and security for Plains All American Pipeline, for not explaining why the ruptured pipeline had corroded down to a 1/16th of an inch where it broke. 

Hodgins would not acknowledge or discuss federal regulators' preliminary findings that the pipeline had corroded significantly. He said he would comment on the pipeline only after a final investigation by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration determined the exact cause of the spill.  

"Why do I know more about this than you do?" Jackson said.

"That is a good question," Hodgins said, drawing laughs from the audience at the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. 

Jackson, chairwoman of a new Senate select committee on the oil spill, said the members were "frustrated" with Hodgins' “dodge around.”  

Hodgins said he could not provide answers to some questions because of the ongoing investigation by federal pipeline regulators.

When asked to detail past corrosion test results for the ruptured pipeline, Hodgins said he did not have the data on hand. 

"It seems like you didn’t come very well prepared to answer questions," said Assemblyman Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay).

 @jpanzar 

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